Belarus has been hit by protests since August after a disputed election allowed President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office. However, over the past few days, these protests have gained momentum after exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya called for a nationwide strike, demanding Lukashenko’s resignation. The president, for his part, has ignored these calls for resignation and has instead unleashed local police on protesters, hundreds of whom have been detained following public demonstrations.
What is happening in Belarus?
Thousands of people have been protesting for weeks in the streets of Minsk, the capital city. A BBC report in September had suggested that smaller towns and cities had also witnessed protests, albeit on a smaller scale. These protests are a result of public anger and the belief that Lukashenko tampered with votes during these contentious elections to hold on to power.
Calls for Lukashenko’s ouster are rooted in complaints of corruption, poverty, a lack of employment opportunities in Belarus, all compounded by the government’s mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak. In addition to unleashing police upon protesters, Lukashenko has also urged his own supporters to hold public rallies, but these have been much smaller in scale in comparison.
What is the most recent development?
Over the past two weeks, many citizens have heeded Tikhanovskaya’s calls for a nationwide strike. At the forefront of this ongoing strike are mainly students and factory workers who have taken to the streets to protest. According to a BBC report, workers at government-run factories have put down their tools and have been protesting outside the factory gates. Students have been exiting university campuses and marching in large groups.
On October 25, Belarus’ interior ministry had said the police had arrested 523 people during mass demonstrations against the government. The next day, the BBC reported that at least 155 more people were arrested in Minsk, Borisov, Brest, Grodno, Mogilev and Novopolotsk for participating in these protests. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
Will US election results have any impact?
A day after results of the US elections were called by the Associated Press in favour of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, thousands of protesters from across Belarus tried to enter central Minsk but were prevented by riot police, news reports said. According to a report by DW, human rights organisation Viasna said 830 citizens were detained this past weekend, including prominent public figures like model Olga Khizhinkova, a former Miss Belarus.
After the results came out, Tikhanovskaya, who has sought refuge in Lithuania, took to Twitter to congratulate Biden and thanked him for his “solidarity”.
It’s my honor to congratulate @JoeBiden, President-Elect of the United States of America, and @KamalaHarris, Vice President-Elect, on their historic achievement. Belarusian people and I personally thank you for your solidarity and we look forward to our future cooperation!
— Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (@Tsihanouskaya) November 7, 2020
During the campaign trail for the 2020 US elections, Biden had openly expressed support for the anti-government protests in Belarus and had called Lukashenko’s rule illegitimate and had published at least two posts on social media in support of the Belarusian protests.
31 years after they joined hands to demand freedom from Soviet oppression, citizens of the Baltic states formed a human chain in solidarity with Belarusians fighting to throw off the chains of dictatorship.
We stand with the people of Belarus as we stood with the Baltic nations. https://t.co/i1wVnU0wkZ
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 23, 2020
“Although President Trump refuses to speak out on their behalf, I continue to stand with the people of Belarus and support their democratic aspirations,” Biden had said in a statement on his official campaign website. “I also condemn the appalling human rights abuses committed by the Lukashenko regime.”
“No leader who tortures his own people can ever claim legitimacy.…I will continue to join Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and the people of Belarus in calling for the peaceful transfer of power, the release of all political prisoners, and free and fair elections so the Belarusian people are finally able to exercise the democratic rights for which they have sacrificed so much,” Biden’s statement had said.
Now with the hope of a new government in the US in January, Tikhanovskaya and protesters may be looking for assistance from the Biden-Harris government to put pressure on Lukashenko to give up control of the government in Belarus. If the Biden-Harris government were to act upon Tikhanovskaya’s calls for assistance, it would be in addition to recent action initiated by the European Union and Canada.
This past week, the European Union officially imposed sanctions on Lukashenko and blacklisted his 44-year-old son Viktor, who serves as Lukashenko’s security adviser. Under the terms of these sanctions, Lukashenko and his son are now banned from obtaining EU visas and their assets in the European Union have been blocked. At least 59 people in the Belarus government have been put under sanctions as of November 6, according to a DW report.
🇨🇦 is imposing additional sanctions on Belarusian officials, in coordination with the #EU.
The international community will continue to put pressure on the Government of #Belarus to ensure democracy & human rights are upheld.
— François-Philippe Champagne (FPC) 🇨🇦 (@FP_Champagne) November 6, 2020
On Friday, Canada had announced that it too was imposing sanctions on Belarusian government officials, although it was not clear whether Lukashenko himself was included in this list.